The Mets' Mark Vientos, left, throws as Brett Baty watches...

The Mets' Mark Vientos, left, throws as Brett Baty watches during a spring training workout on Feb. 20 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson


A year ago, the storyline that followed Brett Baty and Mark Vientos throughout the Grapefruit League season focused on them playing their way to the brink of the Opening Day roster.

At the end of March, the two prospects got their reward: an all-expenses-paid trip to Syracuse.

That smackdown set the tone for the season that followed.

Once Baty was promoted and handed the third-base job after the late June trade that shipped Eduardo Escobar to the Angels, he seemed to wilt under his own internalized pressure.

As for Vientos, his bat demolished the Triple-A opposition, but he never really got a chance to continue that damage at the major-league level because of his sporadic usage under then-manager Buck Showalter.

Sure, both earned valuable MLB experience. But it appeared joyless. The service time was more like doing time.

Anyone who followed the Mets last season witnessed the whole sad drama — the erosion of two prospects, their confidence disintegrating by the day. But someone employed in the Bronx a year ago — a baseball universe away from Flushing — showed Saturday that he is acutely aware of the young players’ psychological hurdles and determined to help clear them.

The scene unfolded in the seventh inning, when Baty drilled a 383-foot homer off the white tent beyond the rightfield wall at Roger Dean Stadium. The 111-mph line drive left the park in a blink, a swing so pure that Baty said afterward he didn’t even feel the impact of ball smacking bat.

Mendoza, however, didn’t want that happiness to fade too quickly. Shortly after Baty returned to the dugout, the manager summoned his third baseman to come sit with him in the folding chairs where the coaching staff sets up behind the on-deck circle (protected by a screen).

But this was not a penalty- box situation, a timeout with the manager.

Just the opposite. Mendoza wanted to tell Baty to enjoy the moment. Have a little fun with his first exhibition homer. As the two chatted, Baty broke into a wide smile.

“We were talking about the swing, how it feels nice to get one out,” Mendoza said after the Mets’ 4-1 loss to the Marlins. “I told him to relax. Play your game. Smile.”

That’s not typical Grapefruit League protocol. Players don’t usually hang out in the folding-chair section. It’s for VIPs: the manager and his coaching staff. Maybe a clubhouse elder or multiple All-Star might get past the velvet rope, but not very often.

Baty definitely appreciated the invite.

“It was good to hear,” he said. “You need that sometimes.”

Baty is as guilty as anyone of being inside his own head too much. Overthinking every pitch at the plate. Freezing up on a routine grounder to third base. But Mendoza spent plenty of time in player development with the Yankees. He knows how perilous the landscape can be and the value of a pep talk at the right time.

That’s why Mendoza wanted to get that point across immediately and not even wait until after the game. And Baty, who’s been somewhat guarded since showing up for spring training — certainly realizing what’s at stake — seemed more at ease afterward.

“I’m really happy with the progress that I’ve made in the cage,” he said. “Obviously today, with that swing, the dominoes just kind of fell in place with that swing.”

The Mets are placing a ton of faith in Baty and Vientos. They easily could have gone in another direction this offseason. Late Friday night, Matt Chapman agreed on a bargain three-year, $54 million contract with the Giants that includes opt-outs after the first two seasons, essentially making it a one-year, $20 million deal. That’s a cut-rate price for a multiple Gold Glove third baseman with a pair of top 10 MVP finishes.

For now, despite a very shaky 2023, Baty is penciled in as the starter at third base. Vientos is slotted as the DH, even with a proven hitter in J.D. Martinez — yet another Scott Boras client still in limbo — almost certain to go at way below his original asking price (probably somewhere in the two-year, $40 million range).

Vientos, just like a year ago, always seems linked with Baty. The two are side-by-side nearly every day taking ground balls together. In Saturday’s lineup, Baty started at third base and batted fifth. Vientos, the DH, was behind him in the sixth spot.

A day earlier, Vientos launched his first homer, a blistering opposite-field shot that cut through a stiff wind to sail over the wall in right.

“I feel like my strength is always there,” Vientos said. “Now I want to be as consistent as possible. That’s the next step for me. If I can do that, I feel like I can have a great season.”

During Saturday’s pregame BP session, Vientos launched numerous rockets off the Marlins’ clubhouse building past the leftfield fence. It was almost like target practice for him, or a longest-drive contest. You could see he was enjoying himself between turns in the cage. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t taking those swings seriously.

“I don’t want to mess up,” Vientos said. “Because if I’m messing up in BP, in the game when everything speeds up, I’m for sure going to swing and miss. So everything is about preparation and consistency for me right now.”

Knowing where he’s at now, with a new manager in Mendoza and new president of baseball operations in David Stearns, I asked Vientos if he believed this group is showing more confidence in him than the previous administration did. He paused for a second

“I’m not really sure,” Vientos said. “Those aren’t the things I’m super-focused on. All I’m focused on is doing my job.”

For now, it appears that Baty and Vientos will get every opportunity to do those jobs, with the full support of the people in charge. Whether it works or not, that’s up to them.

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